What to Know
- The delta variant has been found in 17.1% of positive NYC samples studied, up from 10.3% in the health department's last report; the week before that, delta was found in 5.6% of samples tested
- New York's longstanding COVID-19 state of emergency has expired and daily deaths are at nine-month lows, but officials say the pandemic isn't yet over, especially for low vaccination rate neighborhoods
- The White House said Thursday it is deploying response teams across the U.S. focused on combatting the highly contagious COVID strain
The highly transmissible delta COVID variant now represents nearly one in five New York City samples tested, up from one in 10 a week ago, and has become the second-most dominant strain in the five boroughs, according to new health data out Friday.
As of Friday, the delta variant that first devastated India before spreading globally -- and is thought to be up to 60% more transmissible than the first widely tracked contagious variant that emerged in the U.K. last year -- accounts for 17.1% of citywide samples tested in the last four weeks.
That's up from 10.3% in city health officials' previous report and up from 5.6% in their variant report issued two weeks ago.
Delta overtook two other strains that had been more prevalent than it in New York City in just the last week (the so-called New York City strain that first emerged in Washington Heights before spreading elsewhere, B.1.526, and gamma, formerly known as the Brazilian strain, P.1). It's now second only to the alpha (U.K. variant).
Delta, which scientific evidence has shown spreads far more easily than earlier strains of the virus and causes more severe outcomes for those infected, is expected to become the dominant variant in the United States in short order.
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It now accounts for more than a quarter of COVID cases in the U.S., according to CDC estimates, up from about 20% a week ago, and has been roughly doubling its proliferation every two weeks, the agency and national infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci have said.
Given the relatively minute subset of positive samples that are genetically sequenced to assess potential strain variations, both CDC and local experts believe the prevalence of delta, which is classified as a variant of concern, to be much higher than reported.
Existing vaccines are expected to protect people against delta and other variants of concern that have emerged, but with only two-thirds of U.S. adults having gotten at least one vaccine dose and less than 58% fully immunized, the heightened transmissibility and risk associated with delta has renewed experts' concerns.
New daily cases, along with hospitalizations and deaths, plunged nationally in recent months as more Americans got vaccinated but the seven-day rolling new case average ticked up about 10% this week compared with the week prior. Hospitalization and death rates are still declining week over week, but those are lagging indicators.
The latest increases are confined almost entirely to low vaccination rate neighborhoods, which is again proof, officials say, that existing vaccines provide protection against delta, especially when it comes to hospitalizations and deaths.
There are 1,000 counties in the U.S. where less than 30% of the population is vaccinated, federal officials say. The White House said Thursday it will deploy response teams across the U.S. to those higher-risk communities.
With unvaccinated people accounting for nearly all new COVID deaths in the United States, officials are tripling down on an urgent message for all eligible to get dosed.
In New York City, nearly 70% of adults have gotten at least one vaccine dose, while 63% are fully immunized. Statewide, those numbers are 72.3% and 65.5%, respectively.
The city's Office of Emergency Management issued a notification to New Yorkers about the delta variant on Thursday, saying, "COVID-19 variants that make COVID-19 more transmissible are circulating in NYC. Get vaccinated to protect yourself, your loved ones, and those around you. The vaccines are proven to be effective against the COVID-19 variants. Find a location near you to get the vaccine."
Both the city and state have sustained their viral declines even as the presence of delta becomes higher in low vaccination rate areas. That's where New York officials have turned their attention. The state now reports vaccine data by ZIP code.
Hospitalizations and death rates also remain at all-time pandemic lows. Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported 349 hospitalizations statewide on Friday. That metric started at 410 when the governor began to report it daily at the onset of the pandemic and climbed to nearly 19,000 at its peak in April 2020.
He also reported four new COVID deaths, a day after announcing a single-day toll of two, the lowest daily count since Sept. 20. Neither of the two new deaths reported by the state Thursday was in New York City, which was the second time the state reported zero new daily deaths in the five boroughs in the last few weeks.
Core viral rates are consistently at or near all-time pandemic lows in New Jersey as well. Like New York, the Garden State does monitor variant data, and like New York, it has seen the prevalence of the delta variant rise throughout the state in recent weeks.
That strain now accounts for 15.6% of samples sequenced in the last four weeks, up from 7.3% in New Jersey health officials' previous report.
Gov. Phil Murphy has repeatedly declared new COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths in New Jersey to reflect "a pandemic of the unvaccinated" and joins Cuomo and national leaders in their united plea to get dosed as mass vaccination sites wind down.
New York's governor issued yet another reminder on that front Friday.
"As far as we've come with the COVID beast, it is important to remember our fight is not over. The best weapon we have is the vaccine - it is safe, effective and free," Cuomo said. "If you haven't already, I encourage you to get your vaccine as soon as possible to protect yourself and your loved ones."